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  • Natalie Dupile

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When I learned about the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) plans to more than quadruple my family’s rent I was devastated. According to SHA, they plan on raising all rents on “work-able” tenants over six years, to a point where eventually you would have to earn nearly $20/hour at fulltime to live in “low-income” housing. This is not realistic for families that have fragile living situations and barriers to earning high incomes. Nine years ago I moved into an SHA apartment, which finally helped me establish stability for my two children. Before that I was living in a domestic violence shelter having escaped an abusive relationship. Both of my children have special needs, so much of my time is spent nurturing them. This works for us—I am there for them, and myself. This is only possible because my housing is stable and affordable. My current SHA rent is set at 30 percent of my income from the disability assistance for one of my children.

The housing authority is telling us there are high-paying jobs out there to make up for their rent increases. But when you actually look for those high-paying jobs they can’t be found in our post-recession economy. And SHA’s proposal assumes people like me don’t already work hard. I have worked hard to improve my situation. Over the past nine years I completed my BA and have worked part-time as a journalist, parent advocate at the Juvenile court, and home health-care worker. I am currently unemployed and looking for work (please contact me with any leads). I focus on self-care and stress-reduction to keep my brain strong enough to meet the demands of my kids. I look forward to resuming work, but under SHA’s proposed plan, part-time work that allows me to care for my children would not be enough to pay the rent.

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Our situation is fragile—emotionally and economically. SHA’s plan to raise our rent could break us. When I found out about their ironically-titled “Stepping Forward” plan a few weeks ago, I began having nightmares about being homeless again, this time with two children. I’ve worked hard to establish a support network for my small family—neighbors, local friends, membership at a YMCA within bussing distance—and all of that could fall apart if we have to move. Our apartment is not fancy—cheap linoleum floors and several needed repairs—but it’s home. We have a second-hand piano, a washer (I hang our clothes to dry), comfy beds, a clean kitchen. We are okay now. But all of that could change.

“Stepping Forward—Off Of A Cliff” is what I would call SHA’s proposal. It would push vulnerable families like mine out onto the streets. My kids would have to leave their friends and schools if I can’t come up with much more rent than we currently pay. Without me, they would be much more dependent on state services.
Every day when I walk to the grocery store, bus stop, or library I see homeless neighbors living along the bike trails near my apartment. It makes me feel lucky, but also triggers the fears that it could be me and my kids soon. While the city is throwing millions of dollars away on failed projects like the deep-bore-tunnel, more and more of us can’t afford a roof over our heads.

I am working with the Tenants Union of Washington State to stop the SHA rent hikes because I believe that we all must fight this trend of public agencies acting against the public interest. It began in the Universities (my father is a professor and has worried for decades about the sad changes in public education). Now, it’s happening with housing. For example, we have already lost one-half of Yesler Terrace. What makes Seattle great is the diversity of our talents, cultures, and classes. More and more people are losing their homes to rent increases, but for the housing authority to make a conscious decision to raise rents on our city’s poorest is a tragic self-inflicted wound. We all must work together to fight for the vibrant community we deserve, for more public housing, and for rent control, so that we can have a home where our kids can thrive no matter their economic background. Join our rally this afternon to stop SHA’s rent increases!